Yoga teacher training, like so many of the most pivotal decisions of my life, was something I felt an out-of-the-blue impulse to do. Call it intuition, call it fate, but this seemingly arbitrary decision I made last summer with the intent of deepening my own practice has turned out to have been one of the most rewarding choices of my life.
Taking the scary dive from yogi to instructor has been a rich journey. Here are some things I’ve learned that have informed my teaching so far and my life outside the studio.
1. Words are precious. “Speak only if what you say will improve upon silence.” As a teacher and as a human being, it’s tempting to fill silence with words that are aimless or repetitive. But to have intention and clarity behind every word you speak is a spiritual practice in itself. Paring down your speech as a teacher will make your instructions that much more powerful while communicating only the essential and positive outside of the studio will bring consciousness to how you connect with others, adding power and efficacy to each word you use.
2. Authenticity is invaluable. As a yoga teacher, I’ve sometimes felt compelled to repeat spiritual teachings I’ve heard elsewhere just to add more spirituality to the yoga class. This can also be a common temptation for other teachers, especially for newer ones. It’s tempting to say things to try and coax students into a more mindful, enlightened space. But if you stay mindful and teach with intention, they will find that space. The risk of saying what we believe is true but that doesn’t come from our hearts is that we add inauthenticity to our teaching and to our lives. It’s more powerful to speak only what comes from our own acquired wisdom and to present knowledge that we embody.
3. Notice the ego. Yoga teachers are people, too. We have egos—sometimes big ones. And we can get just as competitive or self-seeking as anyone. But the key is not to chide ourselves for being human; it’s to be aware when we do find ourselves wanting to enhance our egos through the identity of “yoga teacher” or through how many students show up to our classes. Be as gentle with yourself as you strive to be with your students when you catch your ego getting in the way of your teaching, because instructing can be a whole yoga practice in itself.
4. Relax and let inspiration flow. To a certain extent, self-improvement and self-education is vital to your growth as a teacher. But don’t think too much about how to teach better or how to be better. Instead, when you yieldingly trust that things will flow as they should, your words and actions become a little more inspired and inspiring; they become effective. As a yoga teacher, relaxing helps you be more direct and powerful with your instruction, puts you in a state of ease that can be felt throughout the whole room, and makes teaching really, really fun. Similarly, when you relax and trust, things in life start to flow. They fall into place and you see that you’re taken care of, that you don’t need to try so hard. The beauty of surrendering and accepting life as it is can be the most powerful thing you can do.
My journey teaching yoga has only begun, but the depths of this path have brought me invaluable insights, the most illuminating being this: whatever we do and whoever we are, whether teacher or writer or cook or clerk, is a yoga practice. We can bring awareness to any situation and, in doing so, transform our daily activities into a vehicle of spiritual awakening.